Monday, March 19, 2012

Open Government

Transparency is an important part of governance.  More data than ever before is being put online including geospatial information.  Many local governments now publish data online through Socrata.  Examples of local governments using their interface include New York City, with nearly 1,000 datasets, and Chicago. Many smaller local governments are using it as well. Geographic data in shapefiles and spreadsheets with attribute data and latitude and longitude coordinates can be found amongst the files.  Apps can also tap into Socrata through an open source API called SODA.

However, what data is published openly should be carefully weighed against privacy, safety, and security concerns.  In many cases, the publishing of such data will be clearcut as the data may already be published elsewhere.  However, grey areas will always exist.  Data published or intended for one audience may also be of use to others with more nefarious plans.  Having large amounts of data organized in one place naturally eliminates barriers to access but also makes to use for people that intend to do harm--potentially making their job easier.

Satellite imagery, especially if refreshed frequently, can be especially sensitive.  Terrorist groups have long been known to use open sources of geographic information and applications such as Google Earth to facilitiate attacks. 

Some solutions are obvious but given the diverse security threat, the risks of open publishing may not always be readily apparent.

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